Robin’s trade was given in his pardon as a litster who is a dyer of cloth and situated in Nottingham’s Lace Market that was at the centre of the wool and cloth trade is St. Mary’s Church enabling Robin to say Mass and trade in the market which at one time set the price of wool for the whole of England.
Much of the wool came from Rufford Abbey in Nottinghamshire and Rievaulx and Fountains Abbeys in Yorkshire and buyers and sellers came from miles around including Yorkshire and Lincolnshire to trade there. The incident with the Black Monks from York whose plan it was to bankrupt the impoverished knight probably took place as Robin and his men went from York to Nottingham which might be the origin of the short rhyme:- “Robin Hood in Sherwood stood, Hooded and hatted, hosed and shod. Four and twenty arrows he bore In his hands.”
Several times we are reminded of Robin trading in Green cloth, and other rhymes tell of Robin selling various goods in Nottingham’s market. Little John called Robin “Master” and in the rhyme said he was the richest merchant in all England, this was when the York merchants were becoming prosperous and the Adventurers Guild was the wealthiest guild of them all. Here is Robin going to Nottingham to say Mass.
Yet one thing is grieving me said Robin, And does my heart much woe(From Robin and the Monk)
That I may not know the solemn day, hen I to Mass nor Matins go.
“It has been a fortnight and more,” said he, Since I have been to Mass;
Today I will to Nottingham go” said Robin, With the help of mild Mary.”
Robin the Master
The theme of the wool and cloth trade is brought out in the Gest when we read about Robin Hood supplying Green cloth to the king. At the same time we cannot fail to notice Robin’s constant references to the Virgin Mary who was the Patron Saint of the Tailors Guild. Professor Thomas Ohlgren believes that the Gest commemorates Edward III who was known as “Our comely king,” with the play celebrating him as both the protector of the English Channel and the founder of seven of the twelve Great Livery Companies. It is easy to visualise the actors in the following scene.
“Have you any green cloth,” said the king, “That you will sell to me?”
“Yes, for God,” said Robin, “Thirty yards and three.”
“Robin,” said the king, “Now I ask of thee,
Sell me some of that cloth For my men and me.”
“Yes, for God,” then said Robin, “Or else I were a fool.
Another day ye will me clothe, I trust, against the yule.”
The king cast off his cowl then, A green garment he put on.
And every knight, also, Got a new green robe.
When they were clothed in Lincoln green They cast away their grey.
“Now we shall go to Nottingham,” Thus the king did say.
When Robin came to the aid of the impoverished knight Little John informs us that Robin was the wealthiest merchant in England with a rich array of scarlet and green cloth. Little Much describes Little John as the devils draper and Scarlet laughingly says “By God almighty, John may give the impoverished knight good measure for it costs him but lightly” meaning it was his masters cloth that was being measured out and not his own. Before the impoverished knight went on his way he was given a grey packhorse which as merchants they would have several to carry goods and to top it off they also gave the knight a horse and a pair of boots which obviously Robin could afford to do.
The name Will Scarlet indicates someone who traded in scarlet cloth and the Germanic word “will” means wool. Another of Robin’s men who was familiar with the wool trade was Friar Tuck from Fountains Abbey that also belonged to the Cistercians. The Abbey possessed many thousand of acres of rich pasture-land stretching across the North East of England into the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales. The abbey’s success was due in no small measure to the lay-brothers who worked as manual labourers on the monastery’s estates in the granges, their numbers peaking at the height of its prosperity between 500-600 people.
The rhymes continue with the adventures of Robin as he and his men travelled between Nottingham, Barnsdale, York and Wakefield during their business and the extract below tells of Robin’s part in the wool and cloth trade, his association with Lincoln Green and why in some pictures he is shown as wearing red or scarlet, not forgetting of course that Robin was a yeoman and they also wore Lincoln Green.
Here are the relevant verses in the “Gest of Robin Hood” translated into modern English by Robert Landis Frank.
“Master,” then said Little John, “His clothing is very thin.
You must give the knight some good clothes, To wrap his body in.
“For you have scarlet and green, master, And many a rich array.
There is no merchant in merry England So rich, I dare well say.”
“Take him three yards of every colour, And see that you measure it true.”
Little John took no other measure, But his long bow of yew.
And at every handful that he met He counted it a yard.
“What devils draper,” said little Much, “Do you think you are?”
Scarlet stood still and laughed And said, “By God almighty,
John may give him good measure For it costs him but lightly.”
“Master,” then said Little John To gentle Robin Hood,
“You must give the knight a horse, To carry home these goods.”
“Take him that grey packhorse,” said Robin, “And a saddle new.
He is Our Lady’s messenger, God grant that he be true.”
“And a palfrey horse,” said Much, “To maintain him in his right.”
“And a pair of boots,” said Scarlet, “For he is a gentle knight.”
The monks who Robin waylaid were from York and seeing as both Robin and the monks were involved in the rioting in York they may have been known to Robin for the thieving scoundrels they were and this was Robins opportunity to correct their mischief outside the crowded city where a rough and ready justice was more easily be achieved?